Posts Tagged ‘social’

All technological change is generational change

May 19, 2011

In my last post I explained why arguments over private clouds are a by-product of our industrial era, top-down thinking and how this will change over time. A few days later I found myself reading the closing paragraph in Nick Carr’s The Big Switch:

All technological change is generational change. The full power and consequence of a new technology are unleashed only when those who have grown up with it become  adults and begin to push their  outdated parents to the margins. As the older generations die they take with them their knowledge of what was lost when the new technology arrived, and only the sense of what was gained remains. It’s in this way that progress covers its tracks, perpetually refreshing the illusion that where we are is where we were meant to be.

We should always keep this point in mind when arguing over the “validity” of different types of clouds.

Those of us in control of today’s enterprise IT are destined to spend our time puzzling and arguing our way through transition. We are not equipped with the mindset, the technical or institutional context necessary to imagine a world of ubiquitous public utility computing; our fears and expectations are shaped too heavily by our past and what we already know.

Only when today’s IT decision makers have been replaced by the next generation will the true significance of cloud computing become apparent. It will be this generational turnover, together with the much discussed effects of commoditisation, that will combine to create our cloudy future.

Fort business and cloud semantics

May 11, 2011

The boundaries that exist today between private and public IT are a concept born of industrial era, hierarchical institutions. This is what David Weinberger called Fort Business. It’s about building walls around the firm, being inside and looking out. The distinction between us and them.

The rise of the term cloud itself comes from business rather than consumer perceptions (for whom consumption of IT as a service over the Internet has been a transparent progression). It’s surely no coincidence that fluffy clouds have traditionally been used on corporate network diagrams to denote something out there that we don’t understand.

I was following the private vs public cloud battle at ECS Interop this week, as it was echoed on twitter. As entertaining as this was, I couldn’t help wondering if, beyond the technical and economic debates, anyone is taking time to think about the social factors that play an inherent part in today’s cloud semantics, and the direction in which we’re heading.

The transition from IT as physical product to public commodity service is an insurmountable mental hurdle for many middle aged IT managers and senior execs. The very idea of it turns their whole world upside down, regardless of the actual risks. What we term “private” cloud is essentially the stepping stone that has been created to bridge the fear gap.

So private cloud is a real thing and it serves a real purpose. But we know from history that it’s only a transitional step, so what happens next?

At Infosec Europe this year I heard Bruce Schneier say that the Internet represents “the greatest generation gap since rock and roll”.

He’s right.

We do not fear what we have always known. We view everything already in existence at the point of our birth to be the natural order of the world – simply constants in life that have always been. When today’s digital natives – our Facebook generation – are running tomorrow’s institutions, not only will these institutions begin to look very different, but there will be no distinction between public and private cloud. It will just be a big mesh of utility computing.

The subversion of hierarchy is already running at full steam; the IT department in Fort Business is being bypassed at an astonishing rate. Business Line Managers are buying IaaS on credit cards, employees are using Google Docs and Yammer for collaboration, Linkedin for their customer contact, Prezi for presentations, Dropbox for filesharing.

As Joe Baguley puts it, the IT department (the department of No) “is just one of the providers in your life”.

As time marches on, shaping our attitudes, our institutions and the way we perceive them, the private vs public cloud battle will become a relic consigned to the museum of human debate; appearing about as relevant to tomorrow’s business leaders as an argument over the respective merits of CDs and vinyl.

The machinery beneath

February 9, 2010

There is a scene in a popular 90s science fiction film in which Keanu Reeves wakes up, splashing around in his pod full of slime, and is faced with the immense towers of machinery that have been powering his dream world. Similarly, in present-day reality, there are unfortunate engineers – the Oompa-Loompas of the Interweb chocolate factory – who, through their work, are denied the purely ethereal online experience enjoyed by everyone else. For them, behind each Google search, each tweet and Spotify playlist is a terrible vastitude of air-conditioned warehouses filled with miles of humming, blinking machines and endless cable spaghetti.

The anti-green credentials of the Internet are partly due to good old fashioned human extravagance. Resources are poured into the fabrication of silicon and the production of over packaged machines that, once installed, appear to do little more than turn electrical energy into heat, and then require industrial-scale cooling to keep them happy. But the machines don’t make themselves and the social demand for technical infrastructure is not slowing down.

During his talk at LSE last week Jaron Lanier described the heavy industry of the Internet as “profoundly wasteful“. His point, mainly in support of a universal micropayment system, was that current usage patterns are hugely inefficient, particularly with regard to file sharing and the endless duplication this entails. The anarchic nature of the Internet, while being one of its greatest strengths, has contributed to this. Although the actual percentage of total bandwidth sucked up by peer-to-peer networks is up for debate the fact remains that a fresh approach to digital rights management and payment could help. Currently legal file distribution remains in the grip of what Lanier refers to as “walled gardens”, such as iTunes and Amazon Kindle, whereby a perennial cycle of physical gadgets must be produced in order to make money out of intangible things.

Interestingly, the worst recession since records began has failed to stifle society’s insatiable appetite for digital content and services, with Internet traffic growth continuing on a skyward trajectory. Ofcom research reveals that even in a frosty economic climate, many people would forgo other luxuries before considering cutting their spending on broadband. It seems the UK has a new essential utility. In this environment of growth, social and economic changes will accomplish more than what can be achieved with just more efficient hardware.